A review into Surrey’s Police and Crime Commissioner taking control of the county’s fire and rescue service has been branded “a waste of time” and “unwarranted” by councillors.
The proposals could mean the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service would no longer be under the control of the county council, but councillors questioned the possible move at a time of “considerable change” in the service.
Councillors raised concerns at a meeting of the authority’s communities, environment and highways select committee on Wednesday (July 5) that such a change had previously been ruled out, and that the review was a waste of money.
Lisa Townsend told the LDRS she was responding to central government proposals to reform fire and rescue services, and has commissioned an independent review to see if there would be any benefits of a change.
The Conservative PCC said this was not something she had “dreamt up overnight”, but claimed the county council had made clear they wanted “no active part” in the work to look into the change.
Councillor Denise Turner-Stewart, deputy leader at Surrey County Council and cabinet member for communities and community safety, told the July 5 meeting a previous proposal put forward by former PCC David Munro showed there was “no significant benefit” to a change in governance. She said: ”As far as I’m concerned, nothing has really changed since. There are no direct benefits that could be generated by a potential change. There is no mandate for a potential change.”
She said the service had been through “considerable change” since an inspection by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in 2018/19 found it required improvement, and was now in a “steady state”.
Cllr Turner-Stewart said it would not be “beneficial or advantageous” to look at further changes for the service, and called the PCC’s review “unwarranted and not legitimate”.
Mrs Townsend said she had written to all MPs and to the county council’s leader outlining the work she planned to undertake and the reasons behind it. She added: “This is government policy which I have been encouraged to consider. So I believe establishing an up-to-date understanding of the picture of fire and rescue governance in Surrey is an entirely prudent and legitimate exercise for me to carry out in the circumstances.
“I want to be clear that at this stage, this is purely a review. Any proposal to take on responsibility for the governance of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service would require the preparation of a full business case. This would be subject to extensive consultation prior to being submitted to the Home Office for any approval.”
Cllr Keith Witham (Conservative, Worplesdon) told the meeting he had already made his views on the proposals known to the PCC. Saying he knew how much hard work had gone into improving the service in the past five years, Cllr Witham said a change would be “an entirely inappropriate, unnecessary distraction at this time”.
He said: “It is a waste of time, a waste of her funds, for she is financing this investigation, and will be a distraction, unnecessarily.”
Mrs Townsend said she had “no desire” to distract from progress made in the service but that a government white paper on future legislation was “imminent”.
She told the LDRS: “[Government] have been clear they want to simplify and strengthen governance for fire services and if that process is to involve Police and Crime Commissioners, this review will ensure I am properly placed to make an informed decision for the Surrey public.”